The single sleeves: the embodiment of pop art

Today we unveil the first public exhibition of the collected single sleeves created by Barney Bubbles; a stunning virtual presentation featuring a host of rarely seen images.

England's Glory/Dream Tobacco, Max Wall, Stiff BUY 12. Released April 1, 1977.

The single sleeves are important since they – more than any other area of Barney’s work – embody the characteristics of pop art as defined by Richard Hamilton in 1957:

Pop Art is:
Popular (designed for a mass audience)
Transient (short-term solution)
Expendable (easily forgotten)
Low cost
Mass produced
Young (aimed at youth)
Big business

Barney’s single sleeves comply, though, of course, he added the particular characteristic of anonymity. Only one sleeve carries a credit – for the lettering above Humphrey Ocean’s portrait on England’s Glory/Dream Tobacco by Max Wall (apparently at the insistence of the late comic genius).

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll/Razzle In My Pocket, Ian Dury, Stiff BUY17. Released August 26, 1977.

More will be added over the coming months; just last night at the Nick Lowe/Ry Cooder aftershow, Soft Boys’ leader Robyn Hitchcock confirmed what had long been posited: Barney was responsible for his band’s 1978 Radar single (I Want To Be An) Anglepoise Lamp/Fat Man’s Son.

(I Wanna Be An) Anglepoise Lamp/Fat Man's Son, The Soft Boys, Radar ADA8. Released: April 1978.

Collectively this represents an inspired body of commercial work, much of it concentrated in the post-punk period after Barney returned to the music business in March 1977.

From Head To Toe/The World Of Broken Hearts, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, FBeat XX30. Released September 1982.

In the days when hit singles sold in their hundreds of thousands, Barney (who majored in cardboard design for retail purposes at college) almost single-handedly ignited the explosion of 45rpm packaging as it came back into vogue.

Darling Let's Have Another Baby/It Really Digs/Something Else (Chiswick NS27). Released January 1978.

Eager to address the problem-solving possibilities offered by multiple releases and coloured vinyl, Barney produced at an impressive rate, with few, if any, falling below the high quality threshold.

Accidents Will Happen/Talking In The Dark, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Radar ADA38. Released May 1979.

The mask of anonymity eased adoption of a dizzying array of styles and approaches. Yet themes, symbols, fonts and techniques recur and develop: hearts, arrows, stars, tears, physiognomy, dynamic use of colour, art history references, industry in-jokes, photographic treatments and so on.

Some contain elements contributed by others; obviously the images of the photographers with whom he worked, and also releases such as Accidents Will Happen, where Barney applied the concept of inverting the sleeve.  The stills which ended up on the inside came from the promo for the song made by Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel. Designs for earlier releases, such as The Pie and Silver Machine, were completed by record companies out of artwork he had already created for albums or posters.

Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick /There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards, Ian Dury And The Blockheads, Stiff BUY38. Released: November 23 1978.

We start with the folded paper sleeve for the Christmas message of 1966 Barney recorded in a railway station auto recording booth for family and a few friends and move on to big sellers such as Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, which reached number one and spent 15 weeks in the UK chart.

Visit the exhibition here; download tracks by clicking on individual sleeves. These days music arrives naked, so come celebrate a time when it paraded all gussied up and garbed in finery.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

14 Responses to “The single sleeves: the embodiment of pop art”

  1. Will Birch Says:

    A wonderful visual explosion.

  2. Mark Lungo Says:

    This is a great resource! Thank you so much for providing this useful archive.

    P.S. I think Bubbles might also have designed the sleeve for Andy Arthurs’ single “I Can Detect You for 100,000 Miles”/”I Am a Machine” (originally Radar ADA 7, reissued as TDS TDS3); it certainly looks like his style.

  3. Paul Gorman Says:

    Hi Mark
    Great spot – looks likely. I’ll check and get back.
    Thanks for your kind words.

  4. Iain Baker Says:

    This is just wonderful, thank you.

  5. Paul Gorman Says:

    Thanks Ian – I’m going to be adding some more soon…it’s the gift that keeps on giving…

  6. Iain Baker Says:

    Looking forward to more! What I love about Barney is the constancy of his design, and the fact that it found its outlet in the music business – that most inconsistent of industries. Looking at that spread of covers, you realise that the great and the good rub shoulders with the maligned, the unloved, the forgotten. Barney united them all.

  7. Paul Gorman Says:

    Dead right Iain
    As Peter S says in the book, the music business is barely a business at all. That’s why it, and artists and consumers, were so keen on BB I guess, because he delivered consistently
    The singles are particularly dear to me because there was a five year period when I would buy 45 after 45 (some of which are displayed here) and you just knew that he was behind every one.

  8. Doug Pearson Says:


    First of all, I love both your book and this blog. Thank you so much for making me aware of just how much great work one of my absolute favorite graphic artists has done.

    Two questions:
    1) Have you seen the inner sleeve for the Flamin’ Groovies album, ‘Jumpin’ in the Night’? Do you think it could be a Barney creation? It looks remarkably similar to the “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” sleeve. Part of it can be seen here:
    The two previous Groovies albums had been produced by Dave Edmunds, so there’s a precedent for a connection with Stiff artists.

    2) Is there a book release/kickoff event planned for San Francisco? If you would be interested in having Hawkwind and/or Stiff Records tribute bands performing, please get in touch (I suspect both bands could be convinced to exclusively perform songs originally packaged in BB-designed sleeves).

  9. Paul Gorman Says:

    Hi Doug

    Thanks for your questions – the first provides an opportunity to note the recent death of the brilliant Tom Wilkes (who designed the cover for the Groovies’ Shake Some Action among many other landmark sleeves).

    See here:

    Of course the BB/Groovies connections go every which way – they were on UA in the early 70s for example.

    By coincidence I featured that particular album sleeve on THE LOOK blog a few months back: so I’m checking your query with Cyril Jordan.

    When they weren’t into front-loading their flash threads, The Groovies were into the very graphic/illustrative pop/trash aesthetic similar to strands of Barney’s work weren’t they?

    This was manifested across their releases, such as Grease (by comics artist Vidal):
    and Feel A Whole Lot Better:

    Similarly designer Keanan Duffty posited that the inner of Wing’s Venus And Mars might be a BB:
    KD pointed out that the outer is Hipgnosis/MPL but that there is no credit for the inner.

    We’ve had it confirmed that the inner is not BB. To me it looks like enigmatic Hipgnosis regular George Hardie, as does your Groovies inner, come to think of it.

    And Hipgnosis also designed for Dave Edmunds…

    Re Q2, that’s a great suggestion and thanks for the offer but the US book launch is going to be in Los Angeles on September 10 at a very, er, groovy venue – we’ve got lots of exciting plans, including some appropriate live acts/DJs and heaps of great people coming along – will be announcing details and sending out invites soon.

    If you can make it please come – mail me details of the bands and what you propose to:



  10. johnnydepp Says:

    wonderful images.

  11. Paul Gorman Says:

    Hi Doug
    I received your mail but my response was bounced back.

    Please provide me with an alternative address.



  12. Vic Fieger Says:

    Hi there! I’ve loved Barney’s work for a long while now!
    I saw that he was responsible for Squeeze’s East Side Story album cover on your albums page. Is it possible that Barney also designed the single sleeve for Squeeze’s “Is That Love” single? The images are quite similar, plus the ‘bouncing heart’ with a dotted line in its trail seems so very Barney. Another hint: on the rear, the B-side “Trust” is listed with its letters aligned in the exact same fashion as on the ‘movie poster’ design for Elvis Costello’s album with the same title (that is, with the R and S on a tilted plane).
    Hope I caught one here! Thanks for gathering all of these!

  13. Paul Gorman Says:

    Hello Vic

    Reckon you have caught one right there – well done!

    Of course Barney directed the video for this single (rejected by A&M), designed another sleeve for the album (rejected by A&M) and this sleeve was only released in a limited edition.

    They just didn’t get it did they?

  14. Paul Gorman Says:

    Now added Andy Arthurs’ I Can Detect You and posted a blog about it….here:

Leave a Reply